Twelve years of relentless campaigning have finally paid off for Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO): he is now the President-elect of Mexico. Lots of Mexicans seem to have mixed feelings about his decisive win over the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and National Action Party (PAN) that have alternated in power since 2000 and have left the country in ruins, in some ways similar to the devastation Mexico faced after a decade of Revolution a hundred years ago.
The sense of uneasiness is due to the fact that AMLO, and his National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has been given the presidency and the control of Congress not so much because he arrives with a practical political platform (which he clearly lacks), but because the people were truly sick and tired of the savage corruption and violence that has gripped the nation during the last three administrations. Many analysts will say, “es el voto del castigo,” but we should call it the “frustration vote” because frustration is probably what best describes the mood of the Mexican people nowadays.
The biggest loser is the PRI, which in 2012 was given a golden opportunity to atone for its 70 years of political sins. What did we get? Not only did they fail to repent and straighten out their path, they went back to their evil ways with relish, taking a page (perhaps the whole book) from the super corrupt Miguel Alemán administration (1946-1952) and proceeded to gut the coffers of the government enriching themselves with an in your face attitude, since they know the laws of Mexico are meaningless gibberish that applies only to the poor.
If you look at the numbers you can see that AMLO attained roughly 20% more votes than he did in 2012. These disgruntled voters appear to have switched from the PRI since the PAN once again got a similar amount of votes as in the previous presidential election, which is to be expected as it is well known that Mexican conservatives staunchly refuse to back AMLO in any way. To them, he still represents the specter of Hugo Chávez, an image that AMLO was able to avoid in this election.
The best news about AMLO’s victory is that it demonstrates clearly how Mexico has finally assimilated the democratic process. The peaceful transition of power will occur, ironically, under a President-elect that only twelve years ago nearly committed political suicide when he sent to hell the institutions after losing (stolen his followers still assert) a close election to Felipe Calderón of the PAN in 2006. It makes one wonder that if AMLO hadn’t thrown that angry fit, perhaps he would have won the elections in 2012.
As was the case with Trump’s 2016 election in the United States, AMLO is keenly aware of the deep divisions in Mexican society, especially in economic and social terms, divisions that have been amplified by globalization. The Morena candidate ably manipulated the alienation felt by the people in dire straits and redirected their anger toward a bogeyman they could easily identify as the source of their misery: La Mafia del Poder (The Power Mafia) which includes anyone in the PAN or PRI, but in particular Peña Nieto’s administration.
AMLO was able to connect with the half of Mexico left behind to fend for itself while having to endure the spectacle of corrupt politicians of all parties swimming in millions of dollars. He claims to have the answers to remedy such problems facing the impoverished half of the nation, yet has only hinted at these answers during the campaign. For example, when asked how he’ll fight corruption, AMLO’s answer: by example. His espousal of this theory of trickle down honesty, where he affects everyone with his morality by osmosis, has led his critics to paint him as a Messiah of the poor; therefore, the latter are reviled for not basing their vote on concrete proposals to solve the problems of Mexico, but on blind faith. These critics are wrong.
The analogy to Trump is apt again. Just like the American President convinced the disgruntled voters that he could make America great again by reestablishing the industrialized country that still existed in the 1970s, AMLO has likewise convinced his followers that he’ll recreate the Mexico that existed prior to the 1982 economic crisis. Thus his many promises: annul the energy reforms, seek self-sufficiency in foodstuffs, free university education for all, increase the largesse of the State for the needy. Like Trump, there are some negative aspects that go along with this throwback to the 1970s, such as AMLO’s attacks on his critics and the journalists who question his policies, his opposition to abortion, and his anti-gay marriage stance (though he may have evolved on this issue since he stated in his victory speech that he would respect all sexual orientations). In a word, the President-elect proposes in many ways to return the country to the worst years of Mexican nationalism and the PRI’s perfect dictatorship.
In this sense, AMLO is not a Messiah who is taking us to a Promised Land, for that implies a movement toward a better future. Quite the contrary, he is appealing to our nostalgia for an Eden, a paradise that existed in the past and from where we have been exiled by the dark forces of globalization. That is a big contradiction, this leftist is not promising a progressive, new world; instead, he’s promising a return to that shiny nation we once lived in: his motto could easily be, Make Mexico Revolutionary Again.